Home Estate Planning Rise of long-term sickness deepens regional inequalities, report finds

Rise of long-term sickness deepens regional inequalities, report finds

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The rise in long-term sickness is deepening existing health inequalities and hampering the labour market’s post-pandemic recovery, new research suggests.

Rising inactivity due to ill-health has been a worrying trend with the UK the only G7 nation where employment is still below pre-pandemic levels.

According to the Resolution Foundation, an extra 300,000 people are now economically inactive due to long-term sickness compared to pre-pandemic. This has taken the level of health related inactivity from 5.1 per cent in the year to March 2020 to 5.8 per cent in the year to September 2023.

While regional differences on economic activity already existed, new research from the Resolution Foundation has found that the pandemic has only accelerated these trends.

The research showed that the regions which have experienced the fastest rise in long-term sickness tend to be areas where levels of ill health were already high.

Merseyside, Tees Valley and Durham and West Wales have all seen rates of health-related inactivity rise by twice the national average, the think tank said.

The share of older workers in a local area, which was originally considered to be a key driver of rising economic inactivity, is not associated with rising long-term sickness, the report noted.

By contrast, some areas – such as inner London – have seen levels of inactivity fall. “Long-term sickness gaps across Britain are widening,” the report said.

“The UK’s employment rate is slowly returning back to its pre-pandemic level, a journey that has been prolonged by a worrying rise in long-term sickness. But some parts of the country have fared far better than others,” Charlie McCurdy, economist at the Resolution Foundation, commented.

The government has already announced a series of measures to boost labour market participation, including expanding access to mental health schemes and imposing stricter penalties on those who do not actively search for work.

Rishi Sunak has suggested that further reforms are coming. Earlier this year he said: “You’ve seen the number of people who are signed off has tripled. Do I think our country is three times sicker than it was a decade ago? The answer is no. The system is not working as it was designed to work.”

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